Tag Archives: Great Lakes disasters

Remembering History: The Sinking of Pierre Marquette 18 (9 Sept 1910)

Pere Marquette 18 passing under the State Street Bridge in Chicago while being towed.
Photo: 1910
U.S. Library of Congress digital id# det.4a18153
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

 

On 9 September 1910, the SS Pere Marquette 18, bound from Ludington to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, would sink with 27 dead and leaving a mystery as to why she sank.

The SS Pere Marquette was built in 1902 by the American Ship Building Company (Cleveland, Ohio) as a railroad car ferry. The Pere Marquette Railroad Company intended to use her to cross Lake Michigan between the western ports of Kewaunee, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee with the eastern side where Ludington, Michigan was located. With four railroad car tracks, it could accommodate up to thirty railroad cars. It has had fifty staterooms (and other rooms as well) to carry up to 260 passengers as well. However, if you combined both the rooms and the decks it could hold up to 5.000 people. It had a maximum speed of between 13-14 knots (15 or 16 mph).

Between 1907-1909, the ship was converted into an excursion steamer that carried people to events or around Lake Michigan. The railroad tracks were covered over by planking. Despite the ship’s popularity as an excursion steamer, it did not generate the profits hoped by the company, so they did not renew any contracts for the upcoming 1911 pleasure cruise season. It was converted back into a railroad car ferry and on 8 September 1910, she was back in service in that capacity when she departed Ludington, Michigan. She had 62 passengers and crew, 29 rail cards and miscellaneous freight. Around 3 or 4 am the next morning, the helmsman noted the ship was steering properly. An oiler checking on the propeller around the same time noticed water in the stern and reported it to the bridge. He reported 7 feet of water in the stern. Captain Kitty ordered the pumps be turned on, but that did not work, and the stern continued to sink so low that water was coming in through the portholes. Kitty changed the heading to Sheboygan, Wisconsin and had some railroad cars dropped in the water to give the ship more buoyancy. That seemed to work for a while but eventually the stern started sinking again.

Wireless operator Stephen F. Szczepanek was ordered to send the distress call, CQD, to all ships in the area. He sent the message “Car ferry No.18 sinking – help!” for the next hour. Aboard the Pere Marquette 17, it heard the distress call and notified the captain. The ship immediately headed towards the sinking car ferry. It would pull alongside and rendered assistance to those trying to leave the sinking ship. Two other ships would also arrive on the scene: the Pere Marquette 20 and the tug A.A.C. Tessley arrived on scene to assist as well. Sadly, the wireless operator never made it off ship and was the first wireless operator to perish on the Great Lakes. None of the senior officers survived as well making it more difficult to ascertain exactly what happened.

The ship sank at 7:30 am stern first and the bow rising high into the air. An explosion occurred as she sank, likely caused the pressure of air trapped inside her and likely taking lives with it. 27 lives were lost along with 2 from the Pere Marquette 17. The actual cause of the sinking has never been determined though several theories by investigators and others have been brought forward.

Hard dockings

During the time she served as a excursion steamer, the charter captains treated her roughly and hit pilings when she docked.

Steel Plates issue

Another possible cause is that the steel plates had become loose and since they were underwater allowed water to enter the ship.

No Stern Gate

Older ferries like the Pere Marquette 18 had no rear stern gate to prevent water from entering during storms or heavy wave action.

Stowaways

There were two stowaways aboard, but no one has any idea if they played a role in the sinking.

Leaking Propellor

This would be due to the propellor or its components allowing water into the ship.

Aftermath

The ship was valued at $400,000 and her cargo somewhere between $100,000-$150,000. Captain Kitty was criticized for trying to save his ship and not the people aboard her. In New York City, a memorial was erected in Battery Park in 1915 with the names of wireless operators who had died at sea. Stephen F. Szczepanek is on it right below Jack Phillips, who died on Titanic. Szczepanek was remembered by journalist J. Andrew White as remaining calm, reassuring passengers that help was coming, and returning to the wireless room to continue sending messages. The company would replace the lost ship and name it Pere Marquette 18 that entered service in 1911 and worked until 1952. It was sold for scrap in 1957.

The wreck of the Pere Marquette 18 lies 25 miles off Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 500 feet of water. Until she was found in 2020, she was the largest undiscovered shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Sources:

The Carferries of the Great Lakes
Wisconsin Shipwrecks-Pere Marquette 18 (1902)
SS Pere Marquette 18 (Wikipedia)
S.S. Pere Marquette 18 Historical Marker (HMdb,org)
Minnesota shipwreck hunters locate long-sought Lake Michigan wreck (MPRNews, 8 Sep 2020)


New Year’s Day on Great Lakes

As many of us slept in on New Year’s Day, final pickups and deliveries were being done on the Great Lakes. The region has been under a real Arctic chill of late sending temperature well below zero. The Paul R. Tregurtha is seen departing from Duluth in the morning and it is minus 13 degrees below zero F. You can see the think ice and but more interestingly the sea smoke. This happens when the air is cooler than the water causing this effect. It looks like the water is giving off steam. Due to its morning departure and how cold it was, only a few wavers are there to see it off.

(“COOL” Departure) – Paul R Tregurtha departed Duluth 01/01/2022


Arthur Anderson Master Salute to Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald(1971)
Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)

On Tuesday, November 10, 2020 the Arthur Anderson, which was the ship following the Edmund Fitzgerald on the same night in 1975, made its way through a snowstorm to Duluth, Minnesota. Visibility was poor but they were able to make it safely in. Since this was the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a master salute was given by the Arthur Anderson. A master salute is 3 long blasts (or follows) followed by two short blasts of the ships horn.

The arrival was carried live from the Duluth Harbor Cam (there might have been a news crew there as well) but people did brave the cold to see it arrive (there were people on the other side you cannot see in the video below).

SS Eastland Rolls Over:800-850 People Drown

SS Eastland circa 1911 Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)
SS Eastland circa 1911
Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)

On this date in 1915, the passenger ship SS Eastland rolled over while docked in the Chicago River. 844 passengers and crew were killed making it the largest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

The SS Eastland was owned by St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and was launched in May 1903 . Problems were discovered from the start. Design flaws made it top heavy and its center of gravity was too high. When lots of passengers congregated on top deck, the ship would list. While some modifications fixed issues, there were still listing problems. SS Eastland also achieved notoriety in August 1903 for a mutiny by the ships firemen. On 14 Aug, while traversing between Chicago to South Haven, Michigan some fireman refused to stoke the fires because they had not received their potatoes. The captain ordered the men arrested. Two firemen who did not participate in the mutiny had to stoke the fires until they docked. The six men were arrested by the police and later the captain was replaced.

Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/) This image is now in public domain.
Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/)
This image is now in public domain.

On 24 Jul 1915 the Eastland and two other passenger steamers were chartered to take employees of Western Electric to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For the workers, it was a major event since many did not take holidays. Boarding began at 0630 and by 0710, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572. The ship was packed and passengers filled every possible place on the upper decks. The ship had already begun to list to port and the crew tried to balance the ship using the ballast tanks. That did not work. Numerous passengers passengers apparently rushed to the port side making it worse. At 0728, the ship lurched sharply to port and rolled over to rest on the river bottom twenty feet below the surface. Because so many were below decks to keep warm, they were trapped by the sudden rollover. Heavy furniture-pianos, bookcases, tables-crushed many inside.

The Kenosha responded immediately and came aside to allow those stranded on top to jump aboard. But for those trapped below, there was no rescue. The bodies were retrieved and taken to temporary morgues.

The president and three officers of St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company were indicted for manslaughter. The ship’s captain and engineer where charged with criminal carelessness as well. However during an extradition hearing (all six were in Michigan and had to be extradited to Illinois to stand trial) the federal judge believed there was not enough probable cause citing lack of evidence and refused to extradite. He further said the captain and engineer were merely doing their jobs.

Ironically because of the 1915 Seamen’s Act passed after Titanic’s demise, the additional weight of the lifeboats probably worsened the top-heavy issues of the ship.

A historical marker along the Chicago River marks the event. Plans are also underway to construct an outdoor exhibit where Eastland sank.

Eastland Goes Navy
The Eastland was raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve and commissioned USS Wilmette . She was reconfigured as a gun boat and primarily used for training. Her only action came after the war when she was tasked with sinking a captured German U-Boat in 1921. Most of her career after that was training naval reservists. In 1941, her training duty was altered to train naval armed crews on merchant ships. Her most prestigious task was to take President Roosevelt and others to Whitefish Bay to plan war strategies in 1943. She was decommissioned in 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946.

Sources:
1. SS Eastland (Wikipedia)
2. Eastland Memorial Society
3.Eastland Disaster Historical Society

Remembering the SS Eastland

SS Eastland circa 1911 Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)
SS Eastland circa 1911
Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)

On this date in 1915, the passenger ship SS Eastland rolled over while docked in the Chicago River. 844 passengers and crew were killed making it the largest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

The SS Eastland was owned by St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and was launched in May 1903 . Problems were discovered from the start. Design flaws made it top heavy and its center of gravity was too high. When lots of passengers congregated on top deck, the ship would list. While some modifications fixed issues, there were still listing problems. SS Eastland also achieved notoriety in August 1903 for a mutiny by the ships firemen. On 14 Aug, while traversing between Chicago to South Haven, Michigan some fireman refused to stoke the fires because they had not received their potatoes. The captain ordered the men arrested. Two firemen who did not participate in the mutiny had to stoke the fires until they docked. The six men were arrested by the police and later the captain was replaced.

Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/) This image is now in public domain.
Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/)
This image is now in public domain.

On 24 Jul 1915 the Eastland and two other passenger steamers were chartered to take employees of Western Electric to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For the workers, it was a major event since many did not take holidays. Boarding began at 0630 and by 0710, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572. The ship was packed and passengers filled every possible place on the upper decks. The ship had already begun to list to port and the crew tried to balance the ship using the ballast tanks. That did not work. Numerous passengers passengers apparently rushed to the port side making it worse. At 0728, the ship lurched sharply to port and rolled over to rest on the river bottom twenty feet below the surface. Because so many were below decks to keep warm, they were trapped by the sudden rollover. Heavy furniture-pianos, bookcases, tables-crushed many inside.

The Kenosha responded immediately and came aside to allow those stranded on top to jump aboard. But for those trapped below, there was no rescue. The bodies were retrieved and taken to temporary morgues.

The president and three officers of St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company were indicted for manslaughter. The ship’s captain and engineer where charged with criminal carelessness as well. However during an extradition hearing (all six were in Michigan and had to be extradited to Illinois to stand trial) the federal judge believed there was not enough probable cause citing lack of evidence and refused to extradite. He further said the captain and engineer were merely doing their jobs.

Ironically because of the 1915 Seamen’s Act passed after Titanic’s demise, the additional weight of the lifeboats probably worsened the top-heavy issues of the ship.

A historical marker along the Chicago River marks the event. Plans are also underway to construct an outdoor exhibit where Eastland sank.

Eastland Goes Navy
The Eastland was raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve and commissioned USS Wilmette . She was reconfigured as a gun boat and primarily used for training. Her only action came after the war when she was tasked with sinking a captured German U-Boat in 1921. Most of her career after that was training naval reservists. In 1941, her training duty was altered to train naval armed crews on merchant ships. Her most prestigious task was to take President Roosevelt and others to Whitefish Bay to plan war strategies in 1943. She was decommissioned in 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946.

Sources:
1. SS Eastland (Wikipedia)
2. Eastland Memorial Society
3.Eastland Disaster Historical Society

MacHighway - Web Hosting for Mac Users, by Mac Users, Since 1997

Remembering the SS Eastland

SS Eastland circa 1911 Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)
SS Eastland circa 1911
Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)

On this date in 1915, the passenger ship SS Eastland rolled over while docked in the Chicago River. 844 passengers and crew were killed making it the largest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

The SS Eastland was owned by St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and was launched in May 1903 . Problems were discovered from the start. Design flaws made it top heavy and its center of gravity was too high. When lots of passengers congregated on top deck, the ship would list. While some modifications fixed issues, there were still listing problems. SS Eastland also achieved notoriety in August 1903 for a mutiny by the ships firemen. On 14 Aug, while traversing between Chicago to South Haven, Michigan some fireman refused to stoke the fires because they had not received their potatoes. The captain ordered the men arrested. Two firemen who did not participate in the mutiny had to stoke the fires until they docked. The six men were arrested by the police and later the captain was replaced.

Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/) This image is now in public domain.
Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/)
This image is now in public domain.

On 24 Jul 1915 the Eastland and two other passenger steamers were chartered to take employees of Western Electric to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For the workers, it was a major event since many did not take holidays. Boarding began at 0630 and by 0710, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572. The ship was packed and passengers filled every possible place on the upper decks. The ship had already begun to list to port and the crew tried to balance the ship using the ballast tanks. That did not work. Numerous passengers passengers apparently rushed to the port side making it worse. At 0728, the ship lurched sharply to port and rolled over to rest on the river bottom twenty feet below the surface. Because so many were below decks to keep warm, they were trapped by the sudden rollover. Heavy furniture-pianos, bookcases, tables-crushed many inside.

The Kenosha responded immediately and came aside to allow those stranded on top to jump aboard. But for those trapped below, there was no rescue. The bodies were retrieved and taken to temporary morgues.

The president and three officers of  St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company were indicted for manslaughter. The ship’s captain and engineer where charged with criminal carelessness as well. However during an extradition hearing (all six were in Michigan and had to be extradited to Illinois to stand trial) the federal judge believed there was not enough probable cause citing lack of evidence and refused to extradite. He further said the captain and engineer were merely doing their jobs.

Ironically because of the 1915 Seamen’s Act passed after Titanic’s demise, the additional weight of the lifeboats probably worsened the top-heavy issues of the ship.

A historical marker along the Chicago River marks the event. Plans are also underway to construct an outdoor exhibit where Eastland sank.

Eastland Goes Navy
The Eastland was raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve and commissioned USS Wilmette . She was reconfigured as a gun boat and primarily used for training. Her only action came after the war when she was tasked with sinking a captured German U-Boat in 1921. Most of her career after that was training naval reservists. In 1941, her training duty was altered to train naval armed crews on merchant ships. Her most prestigious task was to take President Roosevelt and others to Whitefish Bay to plan war strategies in 1943.  She was decommissioned in 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946.

Sources:
1. SS Eastland (Wikipedia)
2. Eastland Memorial Society
3.Eastland Disaster Historical Society

MacHighway - Web Hosting for Mac Users, by Mac Users, Since 1997